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How healthy soil improves yields, ecosystem

Posted by | June 15, 2016
WSU-based USDA-ARS soil scientist David Huggins speaks with farmers at a past Cook Agronomy Farm Field Tour. The event returns June 22, 2016.
WSU-based USDA-ARS soil scientist David Huggins speaks with farmers at a past Cook Agronomy Farm Field Tour. The event returns June 22, 2016.

Experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Washington State University will share the latest research on how soil health can improve farm profitability at the Cook Agronomy Farm Field Day Wednesday, June 22, in Whitman County, Wash.

Researchers at the farm have been exploring soil health as part of a national, USDA-led focus on long-term research in agro-ecology. Healthy soil improves yields, but it does more, said David Huggins, a USDA-ARS soil scientist at WSU who organized the biannual field day.

“Performance goes beyond productivity to include diverse aspects of agriculture, including many ecosystem services,” he said.

The 2016 field day, “Building Agricultural Performance for an Uncertain Future,” will include a three-hour site tour, lunch and farmer-led discussion on soil health. Wayne Honeycutt, president and CEO of the newly established Soil Health Institute based in North Carolina, will speak at noon on the future of healthy soils.

In morning and afternoon programs, more than a dozen faculty and student presenters will share research findings on precision agriculture, soil health, remote sensing, weather variability, field-scale hydrology, insects, wheat and disease, with a focus on wheat-based cropping systems.

Highlights of the morning program will be research of the interdisciplinary Regional Approaches to Climate Change project, or REACCH, and the Site-Specific Climate Friendly Farming (SCF) project, which works on win-win scenarios to ensure sustainable cereal production in the face of future uncertainties including changing climate.

In the afternoon program, “Taking it to the Pits,” researchers will discuss differences in soil health, diagnosed with new and existing tests, at four five-foot-deep soil pits in the field.

Cook Agronomy Farm is one mile north of Pullman on Highway 27, then 4.7 miles east on Whelan Road. Partners on the tour include the USDA, WSU, the University of Idaho and the REACCH interdisciplinary team.

To learn more, contact David Huggins, Northwest sustainable agroecosystems research soil scientist, at 509-335-3379 or david.huggins@ars.usda.gov. Learn more about upcoming WSU wheat and small grains events at http://smallgrains.wsu.edu/events/.